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Sundance Day 3: Idols and lovers

Posted by Ty Burr  January 18, 2009 03:49 PM

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Still from "Afghan Star"

Quick hits: "Just came from "500 Days of Summer," which is a prototype Sundance flick -- a coming-of-age indie romance with hip young stars (Zooey Deschanel, Joseph Gordon-Leavitt), a hipper soundtrack (Regina Spektor sings over the opening credits), and a fairly formulaic love-and-loss plotline scrambled chronologically. Sometimes these movies feel forced (*cough* "Garden State" *cough*) but this one's sweet as all get-out, thanks to the stars and location shooting that shows us a side of Los Angeles rarely captured on film (lots of old downtown architecture). Very sweet if not exactly groundbreaking.

"Afghan Star," by contrast, takes us somewhere few movies have-- into the heart of Afghanistan for the final episodes of a wildly popular "American Idol"- style TV contest. Havana Marking's film focuses on four contestants -- two men, two women (one in photo above) -- and a host bent on turning the country's energies from guns to song. Meanwhile, the Taliban and assorted hardliners make death threats and when one of the women dares to dance and remove her head scarf during her final song, the country reels from the scandal. The sense of hope and danger is more palpable here than in any other movie I've seen at Sundance, and the film's hard-won good vibes had the audience cheering. Wonderful movie.

"The Mystery Team" is a cheaply shot (in Manchester, New Hampshire!) entry from the New York-based Derrick comedy troupe that has a nifty idea: What if Encyclopedia Brown grew up into a total dork? Donald Glover, DC Pierson, and Dominic Dierkes play the team of high school misfits trying to solve a murder; the scene where they infiltrate a strip club makes for great dumb yuks. It's one of those movies that plays best at midnight (when I saw it; the audience was in tears of laughter), and if it's maybe not as hilarious in the light of day, I'd love to see what these guys could do with a real budget.

I'll have more video later in the day.

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Ty Burr is a film critic with The Boston Globe.

Mark Feeney is an arts writer for The Boston Globe.

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Tom Russo is a regular correspondent for the Movies section and writes a weekly column on DVD releases.

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